Now that the dust has settled from the whirlwind draft night, in which fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers had emotions that were flying all over the place, we can start to consider what the 2011-12 roster might look like and what the Cavaliers’ free agency options are.
When the Cavaliers selected Justin Harper in the 2nd round of the draft, there was a lot of confusion as to why the Cavaliers drafted another PF. When the Cavs subsequently traded him to Orlando for two future 2nd round draft picks, the confusion reached a fever pitch. The anger over a 2nd round pick in the NBA draft was a little bit much, but the confusion was certainly understandable.
Finding quality players in the 2nd round is a fine art form, but the Cavaliers have had some success in the past with players like Daniel Gibson and Carlos Boozer. So while I may not have understood the anger, I did understand why people were confused. Heck, I was confused. I wouldn’t have traded the 32nd pick. I would have taken a shot on someone like Tyler Honeycutt. Actually, not someone like Honeycutt….I would have drafted Honeycutt. On a rebuilding team that sorely needs all the talent infusion it can get, why not select someone there that they could possibly use?
It was a questionable move for sure, but ultimately one that will likely have little bearing overall on future of the franchise. For his part, Cavs general manager Chris Grant stated that the team simply reached a point where they didn’t feel confident that any player they drafted would be better than a player they could get in free agency. It’s unclear, though, just how active the Cavaliers will be able to be in the free agent market.
A quick look at the Cavaliers currently under contract for the 2011-12 season, and their 2011-12 salaries (courtesy of ShamSports.com) shows that they are already over the max roster:
Baron Davis: $13,900,000
Antawn Jamison: $15,076,715
Anderson Varejao: $7,950,000
Daniel Gibson: $4,403,834
Ramon Sessions: $4,257,834
Ryan Hollins: $2,483,333
JJ Hickson: $2,354,537
Christian Eyenga: $1,097,520
Joey Graham: $1,106,941
Samardo Samuels: $788,872
Alonzo Gee: $884,293
Semih Erden: $788,872
Luke Harangody: $788,872
Manny Harris: $788,872
Kyrie Irving: TBD
Tristan Thompson: TBD
As Scott reported last Friday, Ryan Hollins has indeed picked up his option for this season. That leaves Joey Graham, Samardo Samuels, Alonzo Gee, and Manny Harris as the players with unguaranteed contracts who can be cut. To get to the max of 15, the most likely player to be cut is Joey Graham.
In order for the Cavaliers to have used their 2nd round pick, they would have had to either cut one more player from that list, or else trade someone (perhaps Ramon Sessions) for draft picks only. So basically, what the Cavaliers said was that they didn’t like anyone at pick #32 more than Samuels, Gee, or Harris. We can certainly debate that, as it’s hard to believe you can’t find anyone at #32, even in a weak draft, better than 3 undrafted free agents, but that’s essentially what the Cavaliers felt was the case.
It would be easier to speak with more certainty if there wasn’t the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement changes looming over everything, but if the Cavaliers are going to actually try to be players in the free agent market, they are going to have to free up some more roster spots.
I believe the team would like to hang on to Samardo Samuels and Alonzo Gee. I think each player showed moments of promise last season. I think they could both develop into deep bench players for the Cavaliers. Manny Harris did play in 54 games and even started 15 games, but I would assume Manny would be next on the chopping block should the Cavaliers need to make room.
The other option, of course, will be to make some trades to open some spots. No matter what the CBA looks like, expiring contracts will always have value, and the Cavaliers will have a whopper on their hands this season in that Antawn Jamison $15 million salary. However, expiring deals are always easier to trade at the deadline, so expect Jamison to at least be around for half the year.
There has been talk of Baron Davis being a trade option, but I don’t buy it. For all the scoffing national pundits have made at the thought of Davis being a mentor for Kyrie Irving, the fact of the matter is that Baron Davis’s attitude in Cleveland has been nothing short of awesome. He instantly fit right in with the attitude and mentality of the players on the roster, and he has been an invaluable leader both on and off the court for the Cavaliers. Baron has fully embraced the idea of mentoring Irving and actually sounds like it’s something he’s really looking forward to.
If the Cavaliers were to trade Baron, they would have to be the sellers in the deal and they would have to thrown in extra assets to offset another team taking on the extra year on Baron’s contract. For a rebuilding team, that kind of deal doesn’t make a lot of sense. I think Baron is much more valuable on the roster for this season, letting him work with Kyrie, and maybe even moving over to the shooting guard position to fill a need there as well being a stable veteran presence in the backcourt with Irving. Then next season when his contract is an expiring one, the Cavaliers can revisit the idea of trading him.
So the two most likely candidates to be traded, then are probably Ramon Sessions and JJ Hickson. The Cavaliers have been hesitant to seriously consider trading Varejao and now that the Cavaliers were unable to acquire a center in the draft, they would be stuck with just Ryan Hollins and Semih Erden were it not for Andy.
Trading Ramon Sessions probably makes the most sense. He would be such an ideal candidate to be the long term backup PG to Kyrie Irving. However, Ramon has made it clear he’s not really interested in playing that role and is looking for a trade. If it comes down to it and the Cavaliers need an extra roster spot and they don’t want to cut Samardo Samuels or Alonzo Gee, then trading Ramon is probably the best option.
For all the talk of the Tristan Thompson selection being the beginning of the end of JJ Hickson in Cleveland, that doesn’t really have to be the case. When people talk about the Cavaliers’ “logjam” at PF, they often mention Antawn Jamison and Samardo Samuels. That seems disingenuous at best to me. Antawn doesn’t figure in the long term plans of the Cavaliers whatsoever and the Cavaliers certainly feel that Tristan Thompson is much better than Samardo Samuels.
Tristan Thompson gives the Cavaliers the luxury of options. If Thompson pans out to be the player the Cavaliers think he will, then the Cavaliers will have the ability to perhaps bring him off the bench in a super 6th man type of role. Thompson could either sub in for Hickson, or else Hickson could slide over to center and play at the same time as Thompson. JJ’s and Tristan’s games are somewhat different and that could allow them to compliment one another on the floor together. Besides, JJ played a decent amount of center last season and although he couldn’t handle the likes of Dwight Howard, he did hold his own against teams with smaller lineups.
The point being, the Cavaliers don’t have to trade Hickson. If Thompson turns out better than JJ, then Thompson can start and JJ can come off the bench. Or else, if the Cavaliers can get another lottery pick in next year’s incredibly deep draft, then maybe it’s worth it. But the important thing is that Chris Grant doesn’t have to trade JJ and he can hold out for a deal that makes the most sense.
Many fans seemed to want the Cavaliers to solve all their problems in one draft. That wasn’t going to happen. What the Cavaliers did in this draft was add some much needed talent while continuing to stockpile future drafts and giving themselves plenty of roster flexibility and future options. The rebuilding process is very fluid, and now the Cavaliers have multiple directions they can go, depending on what is available in either free agency or else via trade.
The future is getting brighter in Cleveland, and now the key for the team and its fans is to continue practicing patience and persistence. This draft didn’t make the future any less bright, it just it made it less clear how this will all play out. They key is for the team to avoid any quick fixes and to continue down this path of adding talent, and keeping options open. Eventually, the right move will present itself to take the team to the next level, from rebuilding to fighting for contention. Until then, we’ll all just keep waiting and trying to enjoy the slow and steady climb.